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Editorial: Name Names

“The ethics committee has a job to do, and I hope they do it.— So opined House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) last week about possible connections between campaign money raised by PMA Group, the now-defunct lobbying firm, and earmarks secured for its clients by Members of Congress.

We couldn’t agree with Boehner more — so we urge the leader to act. He should file an ethics complaint against the target of his remarks, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), and break the ridiculous “ethics truce— that’s prevailed between Democrats and Republicans, almost unbroken, since 1997.

As four watchdog groups have urged, the ethics committee ought to be investigating the contributions-and-earmarks relationship between PMA and, besides Murtha, Reps. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.), members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which Murtha chairs.

In a letter to the ethics committee, Democracy 21, Common Cause, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG cited news reports showing that the three Members have received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from PMA and its clients over the past decade and have sponsored earmarks worth hundreds of millions.

After becoming one of the top-grossing lobbying firms in town thanks to its connections to Murtha and others, PMA dissolved this year after its offices were raided by the FBI.

As Roll Call reported in 2007, the three Democrats inserted 36 earmarks into the 2008 Defense appropriations bills for PMA clients and received $542,000 in campaign contributions from them during a six-month period, 26 percent of their total fundraising.

There is no direct evidence of a quid pro quo here, but as the Associated Press noted, “the giving is especially heavy in March, which is prime time for submitting written earmark requests. Over the past two decades, $1.1 million has flowed to the campaigns and leadership [political action committees] of Murtha, Visclosky and Moran from PMA and its clients in March alone.—

As Boehner observed when asked whether he would file a complaint, “the ethics committee can initiate any kind of inquiry on its own.— It’s conceivable that the committee has initiated an investigation and has not announced it. We hope so.

But, to be sure there’s action, a Member needs to file a complaint. Last year, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) took the unprecedented step of filing complaints against himself to initiate investigations to resolve charges that he misused House stationery and received gifts in the form of reduced rent.

In the early and mid-1990s, Republicans and Democrats waged “ethics war— against each other. Republicans first brought down Speaker Jim Wright (D-Texas), then Democrats succeeded in tarnishing Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Then the two parties agreed to stop and only one Member complaint has been filed since, against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) in 2004.

Republicans have voted en masse six times for a privileged resolution sponsored by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) calling for an investigation of PMA, but they’ve refused to file a complaint because, Flake says, he doesn’t want to “name names.—

We suspect that Republicans actually hope to use the PMA controversy to embarrass Democrats rather than cleanse the House of possible wrongdoing. It’s time to name names.

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